Puya: Unearthly Delights in the Garden

Updated on January 20, 2018
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Catherine is a California-certified nursery professional. Her interests are birds, insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.

Puya Alpestris

The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya Alpestris  contrast w/ the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom.
The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya Alpestris contrast w/ the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom. | Source

Our home came with a mature garden of varied things, but it was quite a surprise to see a puya for the first time. It looked so unworldly! My husband and I both stared at a 3' spike of metallic teal blooms with bright orange anthers and wondered what it could possibly be!

Well before the internet, my research involved the tedious page turning of my Sunset Western Garden Book. Finally, there it was: Puya alpestris, an exotic plant native to the Andean slopes of South America. What a rare treat! We still only see it produce a flower about once every 6 years, and it is an exciting event which takes place over several weeks.

The Bromeliad Family:

The Bromeliacea family has over 3,000 varieties. Some thrive in the world's tropical rainforests where they attach to the bark of trees with their aerial roots. These epiphytes, easily rooted, have been adapted to grow as house plants, including the colorful guzmanias and tillandsias. Distantly related to the pineapple, many are naturally terrestrial and prefer to grow in well-drained soil like the dyckias and puyas which are treated as cactus and succulents.

The puya species has close to 200 varieties. Native to the Andes regions of Chile, these exotic plants produce strong fibers that were used by indigenous people for ropes and fishing nets. In fact, the name "puya" comes from the Mapuche Indian word for "point." which is the characteristic shape of the inflorescence.

The characteristic reverse barbed leaves
The characteristic reverse barbed leaves | Source

Puya Ramondii


The Puyas of South America

The largest bromeliad in the world is native to the lower slopes of the Peruvian Andes and Bolivia. Puya ramondii is known as "the Queen of the Andes" reaching 30 feet in height. This unique towering torch of white flowers, rarely seen outside its natural environs, is slow-growing and takes on average 100 years to produce a flower. This plant is also monocarpic, meaning the whole plant dies after the bloom is spent, leaving only its seeds for posterity.

Puya Chilensis


Puya chilensis , a more practical horticulture specimen for display, grows to 10 feet and has a spectacular spike of yellow to lime green flowers. The huge rosettes of barbed strappy leaves are dangerous to animals and humans alike. This species is often referred to as the "sheep-eating plant" because of its reputation for ensnaring wandering livestock and other unfortunate victims within its spiny clumps. The plant derives mineral rich nutrients from the decomposing flesh and bones as a means of survival.

Puya Berteroniana


Commonly referred to as "turquoise tower." Puya berteroniana produces a 6' flower spike from a 3'-4' rosette of spiked strappy leaves. The inflorescence can take over several weeks to complete its spectacular bloom. The true turquoise flowers have bright orange anthers which stand out in striking contrast. The foliage appears gray-green due to its whitish coating, and the undersides look silver. As with all of the showy puyas, they are monocarpic and will not flower again. It can take a few years for its pups to produce their own spikes. The heart of the torch-like flower can purportedly be cut up and eaten with lemon and cilantro.


Among the candle-type puyas, the best for backyard landscapes in suitable climates, are Puya beteroniana at 6 feet with turquoise flowers and Puya alpestris "sapphire tower" at 4 feet with a deeper teal bloom. Bees and moths enjoy the pollen-rich anthers, and the hummingbirds rest on the puya's natural perches while collecting nectar from the velvety flowers. Both are considered succulents and are well suited to xeriscape garden designs. Unlike succulents which store water in their leaves, puyas go dormant during weather extremes. Each prefers a well-drained soil and can tolerate hot, dry climates with winter dips to 18 degrees F.

Propagation and Care:

These plants can be grown from seeds as well as the off-shoots or "pups" which form at the base. It takes 6-8 years before flower formation. Although drought-tolerant, these plants can handle ample water during the growing season if the soil drains well. They can be propagated in containers or planted directly in the ground; however, I've found greater success in the garden bed. If using a pot, a cactus soil w/ a blend of sand or coir fiber is best. Resistant to most pests and diseases, it is possible to see some scale or mealy bug now and then. The best approach is to respond early by scraping off the scale from the undersides of leaves and treating the mealy bug w/ a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol or an application of neem oil. An annual feeding of a slow release organic fertilizer like calcium-rich bone meal or a pellet-form Osmocote is the most you'll need.

In landscape designs these blend so well with agave, aloe, kalanchoe, and kniphofia with their beautiful orange spiky blooms. The lovely blue-green fingers of Senecio mandraliscae and the bright red-orange pencil-like foliage of Euphorbia tirucalli are nice compliments too. The purplish-black rosettes of Aeonium and low spreading sedum can add textural interest and contrast. Consider companions with similar growing requirements, and remember the barbed leaves are not suitable for areas of traffic, pets, or children.

In my own garden where this plant existed when we moved in over 25 years ago, it co-exists with bearded irises and succulents. I'd love to divide it but don't dare in its tight space. Moving this plant is serious business because of its razored edge barbs. I'd suggest heavy cordura nylon gaiters and gauntlet gardening gloves. Snake Armour hunting overalls would be good too if working with a large plant!

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Catherine Tally


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      • thumbi7 profile image

        JR Krishna 2 years ago from India

        Beautiful. Very unusual combination of colors.

        You are really lucky to have it in your backyard

        Thanks for sharing

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 2 years ago from Los Angeles

        Thank you, Roberta! We really consider ourselves lucky to have this rare find in our backyard, although we never know when it will bloom. Sometimes it takes years! Although the seeds can be started in a cactus soil, the plants are extremely slow growing and require much patience. Since the leaves are so sharp and dangerous, we have let it sprawl with its many offshoots. Eventually, the mature ones will set a flower spike. Puyas are monocarpic, meaning the plant dies after blooming, so the flowering leaf cluster will never produce again, only the new off shoot.

        Perhaps one day I will collect the seeds and plant them. It takes nearly a year before these sprouts are hearty enough for full sun! I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

        Take care! Cat:)

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

        What a find in your garden. It's stunning! Isn't it amazing what just shows up sometimes? Thanks for sharing your video on the blooming process. It looks like the plant would produce many new seeds before it died. Did they all come up?

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello poetryman and thanks for stopping by to read and comment! We're hoping for another bloom in a month or so and are glad it's not the variety that ensnares small animals!

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 3 years ago

        Beautiful, weird and dangerous!

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Thank you, Jo :) It is always exciting to see it bloom. I appreciate the thoughtful comments and always enjoy seeing you here. Take care!


      • tobusiness profile image

        Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

        The blue teal plant is simply stunning. How lucky to have this exotic beauty bloom in your garden. Voted up and awesome, great hub.

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello Fay. Welcome to Hub Pages! Once you see a puya in bloom, they make a lasting impression! I hope that you can grow one in your climate and that my hub helped you learn about its preferences. I appreciate your visit here. Take care!

        Cat :)

      • favored profile image

        Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

        It was about a year ago that I was introduced to this type of plant. They are so beautiful; I hope that one day I'll be able to have them in my gardens.

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi LongTimeMother. I'm willing to bet that the puya could grow well in parts of Australia. Thank you for the thoughtful comment- nice to see you!

        My best to you-

        Cat :)

      • LongTimeMother profile image

        LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

        Hi cat. I'm not sure I'll ever see one for real, but the photos are very impressive. :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hello, Eddy. I'm so glad you liked this and appreciate your kind comments. Spring has come early for us, and is such a glorious time in the garden. I send you best wishes for a lovely Spring also.

        My best,

        Cat :)

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

        What an interesting and beautiful hub. Voted up and looking forward to so many more.


      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Good morning, Audrey. Sounds like perfect timing! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it. Take care.


      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

        Interesting--I was just looking at this plant in someone else's garden the other day and wondering what it was--

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Good morning, Genna. I'll bet you are more than ready for Spring after all the harsh weather conditions you Easteners have had to endure! I'm glad that you enjoyed this. Teal and turquoise petals are extremely rare in nature. It's always good to see you here! Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

        My best to you for a warm and cheerful Spring-

        Cat :)

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        What an amazing plant...the colors and shape of the blooms are breathtaking and stunning. Thank goodness spring is just around the corner.

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Phyllis. I'm so happy to hear that all of the components of this hub worked so well together! It was fun to compile it all, and I love to get positive feedback. Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement.

        Wishing you a beautiful Spring,

        Cat :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        FlourishAnyway, Yes, it is well worth the wait and as exciting as seeing it the first time! Until we actually started taking photos of it during the bloom process, we didn't realize it happened over a 5 week period! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

        My best to you,

        Cat :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Thank you, Rebecca! I really appreciate your kind comments. Good to see you here.

        All of the best,

        Cat :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Jodah. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and am glad I introduced you to a new plant. The puya would thrive in Australia's semi-arid regions, not so sure about Queensland though. Thank you for stopping by!

        Take care,

        Cat :)

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Frank and thank you for the nice comments! Glad you found it both informative and entertaining.

        My best,


      • Phyllis Doyle profile image

        Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

        Cat, you put this hub together in a very nice presentation. The puya blue and orange flower is so lovely and your "Dance of the Puya" video is so fun to watch, the music is perfect for this beautiful flower. Well done on the hub, the video, and all the images you chose.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

        What an awesome plant. Very beautiful and worth the years wait for those pretty flowers.

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        What an awesome looking plant! I can tell it was quite an inspiration for you in creating this great hub!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 4 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Wow, what beautiful plants. Amazing blue flowers. I have never seen these before so this was very educational. Thanks for sharing.

      • Frank Atanacio profile image

        Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

        Cat this was interesting, educational and honestly entertaining hub...thank you


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